Folks who have moved here from other parts of the country quickly learn what we already know: Southern Maryland summers are brutally hot. And in Calvert, scorching temperatures and their accompanying sweltering humidity can be hazardous for those who work outside. And it can be deadly for children and pets left in vehicles.
And Southern Maryland has felt that pain. Five years ago, a 17-month-old boy died after he was mistakenly left alone inside a hot sport utility vehicle at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Federal prosecutors eventually dropped a manslaughter charge against the toddler’s father, and they later dropped a lesser unattended-child charge as well, after a federal magistrate ruled that prosecutors would have to prove an element of “knowledge or intent” on the man’s part. But this year, an appeals court upheld an earlier ruling of child neglect in the case. As the father tragically testified, he simply forgot his son was in the vehicle.
According to the National Weather Service, a dark-colored dashboard or seat can quickly reach temperatures ranging from 180 to 200 degrees. In just over two minutes, a car can heat up from a safe temperature to well above 90 degrees. These conditions can lead to hyperthermia, which is the body’s inability to handle the amount of heat it absorbs. Hyperthermia can happen even on milder days when temperatures are in the 70s — and leaving the windows cracked open has not been proven to significantly curb the rate at which the car’s temperature rises.
You’d think this is common sense and we should all understand these risks by now. But alarmingly, a study conducted by San Jose State University found that over the course of the past 20 years, there are generally between 30 and 35 child vehicular heatstroke deaths in the United States each year.
But these and other heat-related deaths are preventable — if you take the proper precautions.
At job sites, the NWS recommends those who make their living outside stay hydrated and take breaks in the shade as often as possible. Whether working or playing outdoors, keep all strenuous activity to a minimum. This may mean switching up the normal jogging routine to early morning or evening hours, or spending more time in an air-conditioned gym instead.
Those who are young and healthy or are fortunate enough to live and work in an air-conditioned place should make it a priority to check up on elderly or sick neighbors or relatives and those without AC, particularly on those hottest of days when even a short walk from the house to the car can seem overwhelming.
On very hot days, Calvert County government will designate cooling centers, generally at our public libraries, to give folks a place to go to escape the swelter — free of charge, of course.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a list of warning signs to look for that may indicate you are or someone you know is suffering from a heat-related illness. Often, muscle cramping is the first indicator.
Other indicators of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, fainting, nausea or vomiting, a fast and weak pulse and cold, pale or clammy skin. If you experience any of these symptoms, the CDC advises moving to a cooler location, lying down and loosening clothing, applying a cold, wet cloth to your skin, sipping water and seeking medical attention if vomiting doesn’t stop. Indicators of heatstroke include a high body temperature (above 103 degrees), a rapid and strong pulse, possible unconsciousness and hot, red, dry or even moist skin. Call 911 immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
And stay cool out there.